I have arrived! 77 other Fulbright ETAs and I filed in two buses with two long trucks hauling our luggage behind. After traveling for over 20 hours we had a 3 hour bus ride ahead of us until we arrived at our final destination for the next 6 weeks – Goesan University. During the drive we quickly left the busy city of Seoul and entered the countryside. The landscape was beautiful, lush verdant grass, rows of rice paddies, and rolling foothills all covered with a coat of mist and dew. Far from the road you could see the mountain’s shadows imprinted in the skyline.
It was 10:000am and I was already feeling tired and exhausted (We had landed close to 5:00am and I slept on and off on the plane). Thankfully we finally arrived at the university, so we all unloaded the trucks, claimed our bags, and now had time until lunch to settle in and unpack. I opened the door and entered the room and as I moved forwarded I tripped on a small ledge. I commented to myself thinking that was a strange architectural choice (later to learn the ledge was designed to create a separate space for shoes and slippers. Wearing shoes in traditional homes is considered rude because beds are made of mats laid on the floors and families try to re-frame from bring in dirt and other unwarranted elements in). The dorm was a three person room with three small beds and closets adjacent to each. Thankfully, I only had one roommate and quickly learned that it was true everything was smaller in Korea. The room itself was narrow and shaped like two rectangles. The bed was a twin that was also narrow and barely taller than me. Back home when you press your hand down on a bed you will sink in softly, however, when I tried here my hand was met with a firm unmoving stance. This bed was a rock.
I began to unpack only because I wanted to take a shower to clean myself and wake myself up. Finding my toiletries bags and beginning to create some semblance I decided its time to reward myself, so I gathered everything together and went into the bathroom. Like a lost child I was looked around confused where the shower was. I laughed, realizing the metal spicket head connected to the sink was the shower. The water would touch every part of the bathroom floor and I quickly learned not to bring clothes in less I was prepared for them to get wet. Nevertheless, I was clean and I was happy.
It was now time for lunch. The food was tasty for eating at a college cafeteria. We had rice, kimchi (pickled cabbage that is made to taste spicy and sour), pork, and soup. I swallowed the kimchi begrudgingly hoping to gain a better appreciation for the flavor but as of now no luck (I hope this changes because it has been served with every meal so far). Finishing up lunch we scraped our food into the soup bowl and dumped it all in one large container. I was feeling dehydrated and thirsty, but forget to grab water because you are not suppose to drink while eating. We now all proceeded into the large classroom where orientation officially began. This session consisted of three hours of our coordinators reviewing our contracts and the schedules. I was so impressed by the intentionally and support each aspect of training provided us and even more amazed how much fun everything sounded. By the end of orientation I will have completed 89 hours of Korean language prep and extensive cultural and teaching workshops. Beyond the school work we were given the opportunity to sign up for a number of extracurriculars: I signed up for Taekwondo lessons (it should be highly entertaining) and a weekend mediation trip at Buddhist temple in Eumseong. The most important part of the first session was learning to bow and hand papers over. Whenever in doubt you always bow! We learned the 90 degree bow, the 45 degree bow, and the head nod bow. Bowing is used to communicate a message of respect. We then spent time with ETA introductions and left the classroom to go on tour with Goesan students to familiarize ourselves with campus. If I thought I was tired hours before now I was really exhausted but we only had a few hours more to trudge through. Touring campus was foggy, but it was clear how beautiful campus. The campus had one main building that people titled the marble palace because of the towering size and ornate roofs. Following the tour everything else seemed like a blur and all I knew was I was ready for bed. So by 7:30pm I was in bed. I decided I would read a little thinking it would be a good idea to stay up a little longer. That planned wasn’t successful as I didn’t get through one page before I fell asleep.
Today, was an equally busy, but exciting day. Today I felt like I began to meet more people and get to know them more personally as I am exhausted with the status quo type questions “Where are you from, What was your major, etc.” I know the basics are important, but they get old quickly and with almost 80 new people they feel never ending. Nevertheless, today was started off with breakfast, which consisted of rice, fried fish, kimchi, and soup. I then went to a Hangeul review session before our language placement exam. I placed in the beginning section (no shock there). That afternoon we had our first two workshops on the Korean Education System and an overview of Korean culture. This session discussed the dynamics of role learning, student pressure, and the logistics of schools. For example, I learned a major achievement gap exists between high income and low income students predominately because high income students attend Hagwons which are private classes that teach material before learned in class. Moreover, I learned that Korean education policies are changing, but with little reinforcement. For instance, in 2010 it was passed that there were be no corporal punishment and in 2012 it was issued there would no Saturday school. Nevertheless, many schools disregard these laws deeming education as the most important element in students lives. In addition to these policies set out, I found it interesting that public school teachers in Korea work on a rotational schedule where every 3 to 4 years they move schools to ensure teachers are not gravity to only high performing schools and the education access is equalized. I am not sure the practice of this policy, but I thought it was really interesting and sadly impractical for the U.S. Later after the sessions, was my highlight of the day when we split into groups and listened to each of the coordinators experiences about their grant year. I learned about the diversity of placements offered and the different opportunities that exist in each one, which ultimately just made me feel like my head was spinning with information and unsure what I should list as my preference (until today I didn’t even think we had a choice in our placement). Nonetheless, wherever I am placed I am feeling confident will be a good fit and I will make the best of. I am off to bed! Tomorrow I am heading to a rural elementary school to visit a current ETA and observe their class.